September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. But as we move further into fall, the importance of prevention and awareness remain.
While it’s true that many suicidal people will never let on to their true feelings, it isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the warning signs are right in front of us. We just don’t see them that way.
Here are some of the most common warning signs of suicide that are easy to miss.
Dangerous Or Reckless Behavior
This one might seem obvious at first, but we tend to permit certain types of recklessness. Committing self-harm in clear ways, like cutting, is easy to recognize as a suicide red flag.
Getting blackout drunk every night, however, isn’t. Neither is reckless driving. We’ll call these actions “acting wild” or, my personal favorite, “being a regular twenty-something-year-old.”
Unsafe sexual activity is another warning sign. Our culture will often demonize women who engage in dangerous sex. Thus, we’re quick to overlook this sign.
For a non-suicidal person, the risk of death or harm is enough to prevent them from engaging in these behaviors. For a suicidal person, it’s the only reason to act that way.
Drastic Changes In Appearance
A major change in appearance can be a sign that a person is feeling disconnected from their body. In some cases, this can be a bad change. In others, it’s just different.
For example, a person normally put together might become unkempt. A common symptom of depression is an inability to do simple self-care. This includes brushing your hair and teeth, taking a shower, and doing laundry.
Alternatively, a person could make major changes that aren’t bad or good. They might chop off all of their hair or dye it a new color.
A sudden increase in tattoos or piercings can also be a red flag. To be clear, not everyone who has body mods has poor mental health. But body mods are physically traumatic.
Giving the body time to heal is important. Someone getting major modifications back to back could feel dissociated from their body. They use these mods to feel something.
Drastic Changes In Personality
Similarly, a person might have sudden personality changes. And like appearance, this can manifest in different ways, depending on the person.
Suicidal people are prone to major mood swings. A person might be inexplicably irritated or angry. These episodes can occur despite there being no specific triggers.
Mania, a common symptom of bipolar disorder, is another warning sign. Mania is easy to miss because, on the surface, the emotions seem positive. A person might seem especially motivated or happy.
A manic person might have big plans for their life or career. They might make irresponsible decisions—like spending out of their means—to carry out those plans.
In this case, it’s all about context. What is the person normally like? How are they acting now? If the two are different, it might be a warning sign.
Giving Away Things, Money, Etc.
Generosity is great. But if a person suddenly starts giving away their belongings and money, it could signify they don’t plan on using them for much longer.
Some religions, like Buddhism, encourage the rejection of earthly possessions. It’s also possible that someone with excess wealth might suddenly feel compelled to share it with the needy.
So, again, it’s crucial to look at the entire picture. Is the person giving away things they would normally use every day, like their car or favorite clothes? Are they giving away more money than they have to spare?
If the answer is yes, then it might be time to check in with them.
Pushing Loved Ones Away
Depressed people will often withdraw from others. A person might choose to be alone, canceling or avoiding plans. To a non-suicidal person, this might come across as being flaky.
In reality, it’s easier for a depressed person to be away from others. Depression convinces people they are a burden or that no one truly cares for them.
They could have an entire crowd of people in their corner rooting for them, and they would still feel unwanted. To avoid confronting what they believe is a fact, they remove themselves from social situations entirely.
Suicidal people might also push others away more directly. They might hurt a loved one’s feelings, so the other person is more likely to leave them alone.
Unfortunately, our egos make it difficult to recognize these actions as a cry for help, not a personal attack.
Self Deprecating Humor
Our culture is quick to use—and write off—self-deprecating humor. We’ve normalized phrases like “I want to kill myself” and “kill me now” as hyperbolic humor and nothing more.
And while humor can be an effective coping mechanism, it can also desensitize us to actual cries for help. If a person is constantly joking about offing themselves, we might assume that’s just their sense of humor.
However, studies show a positive correlation between those who use this humor and those who are suicidal. So much so that several prevention agencies have recognized it as a warning sign.
There is still a stigma around suicide and mental health. It can feel awkward turning a joke into a serious discussion. But it could be a matter of life or death.
Using humor as a coping mechanism is not inherently bad. You don’t necessarily have to tell a depressed person to stop. They just need to know that you are there for them if and when they need to speak seriously.
One Or More Risk Factors
Some suicidal people are great at hiding their feelings. Despite their internal feelings, they can come across as happy and hopeful.
Therefore, it might be better to look for risk factors. Depression affects all ages, races, and genders. There is no set recipe for a suicidal person. There are only varying combinations of internal and external factors.
Risk factors pertaining to health include a history of mental health disorders. Chronic pain conditions may contribute as well. Traumatic injuries can also increase suicide risk.
Someone’s external environment can pose risks, too. Ready access to lethal means like firearms and drugs increases a person’s risk of death.
Prolonged stress, emotional harassment, and disruptive life events increase suicide risk. Disruptive life events can include divorce or financial crises.
Finally, people’s pasts can often contribute to suicidal feelings. A family history of depression and suicide, previous suicide attempts, or childhood neglect or abuse can all increase a person’s risk for suicide.
How To Help Someone Who Is Suicidal
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It disproportionately affects people of color and Indigenous people. Men also have a greater risk of dying by suicide than women. Though, statistically, more women are depressed.
In-person resources include counselors, health care professionals, mentors, and family and friends. Despite how depression makes someone feel, they are not alone in their struggle.
Not all deaths are preventable, but suicide is. Learning to recognize the warning signs and risk factors before it’s too late can make all the difference in the world.